Spider update (no photos)

We’re in a mundane phase of this project — I’ve got swarms of baby spiders, a handful of wild-caught adults, and I’m waiting for them to reach sexual maturity, so I can start breeding lab lines.

I’ve got a naming convention — the wild-caught adults (Generation 1) all get simple names like Cathy, Barney, Gwyneth, etc. I’ve had a few of them die off already, although I think it was actually murder. It seems that crickets above a certain size are actually able to turn the tables and eat the spider, or at least kill it, and they will definitely consume an egg sac if they stumble on it. I’m learning lessons as I go along — only small crickets. I’m considering trying mealworms as a safer alternative.

For the second generation, each clutch gets named by the first letter of their mother’s name, and the month their egg sac was made. As they reach sexual maturity, they’ll get a letter after the month to distinguish them as individuals. Third generation will get the initials of both parents, but we’re not up to that point yet. I am planning to keep track of the pedigrees of these spiders as I go, in case something unique and interesting crops up.

I do have a sad story. I’ve been particularly watching on individual, GIIXa, Gwyneth’s daughter by an unknown father, laid in August. I’d been calling her Igor, because she had a few deformities — her left foreleg was much longer than her right (it looked like a duplication of one limb segment), and her two hindlegs had limited mobility, so she crawled around dragging her hindlegs, and with her left foreleg raised high up in the air. She made it to near-adulthood, so clearly she was able to capture and eat flies, but today I found that she had died at last. I’d actually be interested in teratological defects, and that I’ve already seen one isn’t too surprising, given how prolific the spiders are.

I’m also pretty sure some of the second generation are reaching sexual maturity, which is about right, since some of them are almost two months old. I’ve got one, AIIXa (a son of Amanda), which already has the massive dark pedipalps that allowed me to recognize him as male — he’ll be losing his virginity soon. I don’t want to give him to one of the first generation females, since they’re so much bigger they might just eat him, but am waiting to be confident that one of the second generation females is ready.

I’m a little bit nervous about getting this next generation to maturity, because I’ve noticed that this species has become scarce as the weather is changing. We noticed that the best spots for finding them this past summer were our garage and sun room, places with lots of fresh air (and diverse prey, I presume) that were still sheltered by the proximity of a human habitat. We couldn’t find any indoors, but only in these attached spaces. Now we’re only finding Pholcidae out in the garage, as if there has been a seasonal shift in the spider populations. It’ll be interesting to see what spider species survive a Minnesota January. Maybe Steatoda/Parasteatoda are moving indoors? Maybe they die off and leave behind egg sacs to weather the winter and emerge in the spring? I’ve got my eye on a couple of egg sacs attached to my garage door, and I may bring them into the warm to see if they hatch out.

Anyway, that’s all I’m doing right now, the tedious business of spider breeding. I’ve ordered some of the reagents I’ll need to start poking around spider embryos, but those won’t arrive until next month, and I’m not doing experiments on babies until I have a stable colony anyway.


  1. Kreator says

    davidc1 @#3:
    Oh, that’s unfortunate, sorry. It’s the intention what counts, perhaps? I don’t have a disqus account to comment but there’s a contact e-mail on the site and I’ve let them know about this; if they’re truly commited to be arachnophobe-safe perhaps they’d be willing to modify it.

  2. geshtin says

    “I’m considering trying mealworms as a safer alternative.” They have powerful jaws and can do damage to the spiders, too. Some tarantula hobbyists insist on crushing their jaws before putting them in the terrarium so the spider doesn’t get hurt. I prefer feeding crickets (size of abdomen so won’t be able to harm spider) or roaches.

  3. says

    I can’t name one (D)avid, because I’m using unique first letters to simplify abbreviating later…and I’ve already got a (D)iane.

  4. says

    I’ve been seeing increased numbers of black widows and brown widows at my home over the past year. Most curiously, very often finding females of both species co-habiting in apparently a single web. (Species identification made possible by their very distinctive egg sacks – spiky for the brown, smooth for the black). Anyone out there have any ideas why they are doing that? Anyone know if these species can interbreed?

    PZ – thanks for the spider thread (pun intended).

  5. wzrd1 says

    We captured some bedbugs that are infesting the hotel we’re living in, taking a page out of my playbook. Any infestation gets a captive version to observe, while the wild population is observed and ludicrously ill pressured in our attempts at eliminating the infestation.
    Insects are good at surviving, it’ll be an interesting race between the infesting insect and myself, but I live far longer than they do and rapidly adjust various assaults, thus far, winning.

    Observed, assisting young molting. So, there is semi-social behavior beyond pheromone signaled nesting behavior present.

    Although, I expect that PZ’s wife would utterly object to his experimenting upon such vexing creatures, I do have an option.
    Strip naked, abandon everything, dust off to orbit and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. ;)

    Our plan, nuke the site from lower than orbit and chemically, via three families of targeted insecticide. Then, get serious heat sources in for a day.
    While the heat alone should be effective, one chemical alters sexual selection in that species, at least experimentally.

    Did someone say “Move out?” and bring the bastards with us?! No, eliminate them here and now, then move.
    Selection process also involved a means to rid us of a cockroach infestation.

    Alas, the experimentation was triggered via necessity. We moved in when I started a new job, we quickly noticed mysterious mosquito bites. Mysterious, as well, we all tend to discover the occasional mosquito and we entirely failed to detect such and we just arrived in our home state from mosquito heaven – Louisiana.
    Then, this nearly microscopic bug crawled across the bed, was smeared and it had human blood coloring, then an adult was available… Oh, shit!
    DEET remains effective for both species, in designing borders, but must be applied daily. Now rotated, insecticide, different families, staggered dosage. Don’t want to breed a supercritter! Have a final assault, a different family of insecticide (personally, I’d prefer a modest, one time only, indoors, usage of DDT).
    And one method that I know would be 100% effective is utterly off of the table, that would kill anyone in adjoining rooms that simply ignored a directive to be elsewhere at that time.

    But, we now do have three species of spiders setting up prominent homes, happy hunting to one and all!

  6. jack16 says

    Boric acid is supposed to be pretty good for killing cockroaches. They like to eat it and it kills them. You can slip the stuff into spaces where the roaches live and your pets don’t. I’ve used it for many years.

    Might not work for all species

  7. A. Noyd says

    Japan’s got more than enough spiders right now. I’d mail you a few if I could. Including the jorō spider (Nephila clavata), which is beautiful and makes very interesting webs. They get kind of large, but they’re good about staying the fuck out of the way of humans.

  8. says

    Back when I was raising Tarantula Spiderlings, to prevent their potential murder, I started them off on only cricket legs. Granted, I never had many spiders at one time, but it did solve a couple of problems. I imagine doing something like that on your scale might be an extra problem, though.

    My very favourite, the most sweetest natured Tarantula ever, was called Igor (well, technically Igorina. I gave all my spiderlings male names. I got lucky in that I raised more females than males). She was a g,pulchra and died a couple of years ago at the far too young age of seventeen. She had never been any trouble, always ate well and never had a problem moulting, and then one time she had a bad moult and I lost her. I still miss her. A few months later I lost another (though I never did figure out how or why she died, she was the same age as Igor but being a b.smithi they don’t have such long lives, so maybe just old age got her. I miss her, too, but I still have her portrait tattooed on my leg to remind me of her.

  9. says

    @DanDare #9

    Long ago, Maxis, the creators of SimCity, put out a game called SimAnt that I loved. I lost the original game disks and was never able to find it again. Probably one of my favorite of the SimXXX games.